Borges and Me: Libraries and Labyrinths

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BBC Radio 4, 19 May 2009
This documentary, presented by Peter White, traced Jorge Luis Borges' life in Buenos Aires, focusing in particular on his work as curator of the National Library. Particular attention was paid to the author's preoccupation with literature as a means to help people see better; in other words, increase their knowledge of the world while developing their senses. Through interviews with people who knew him, as well as his biographers, White discovered that Borges spent most of his life - while not writing - talking about literature in cafés, in the belief that such encounters rendered him a better writer.
Mark Smalley's documentary was shot through with paradoxes: we learned, for example, that for Borges nothing was anything; that he indulged in self-parody while respecting literary conventions; and spent considerable time studying Old Norse while endeavouring to make literature more accessible to his students. His entire oeuvre was shot through with irony, while he retained throughout his life a deep love of his country. Such paradoxes were characteristic of someone predictable only in his unpredictability.
While the documentary celebrated Borges as a citizen of Argentina, whose work achieved universal significance, I never understood why he should have achieved such a reputation. Little attempt was made to explain his work, either as a product of a certain historical period, or as a lasting monument to the author's genius. Perhaps more time should have been spent on commenting on Borges' work, rather than focusing on presenter White's personal odyssey to Buenos Aires.